An old friend helps redirect 'Pigs Friend

An old friend helps redirect 'Pigs Friend

Justin Friend came into the 2013 season seemingly just needing a little more time to conquer the AAA level before he would be able to move on to a spot in the Phillies bullpen. When the season opened though, Friend showed no signs of even being ready for AAA.

Coming into this season, there were a lot of eyes on the 26-year old right-hander. In 2012, Friend had opened those eyes when he posted a 0.23 ERA in 38 relief appearances at Reading. His arrival at Triple-A wasn't as brilliant (4.40 ERA), but he still showed signs of having the tools that he would need to succeed at that level. When the 2013 season opened, Friend didn't look like anything like the guy who had dazzled at Reading. He didn't even resemble the guy who had gotten his feet wet at the Triple-A level with Lehigh Valley. 

Friend gave up three earned runs in his first 1 2/3 innings of work to start the season and didn't get himself straightened out anytime soon. In late April, Friend allowed four earned runs in an inning of work at Louisville and was sent down to Double-A Reading following the game. His return to Reading didn't provide any immediate recovery when he allowed four earned runs in just 1/3 of an inning of work.

"It was really frustrating, especially in the early part of the year, because you want to get off to a good start. It was frustrating coming off the success from last year, but I also knew that I wasn't going to be able to repeat that success," explained Friend. "The thing that was most frustrating was that I just felt like I wasn't making good pitches. If I was making good pitches and getting hit, then maybe it was just the level of competition. When you're not making pitches and you're getting hit, it just adds fuel to the fire."

As it turned out, there was some success to be found in that first outing. Fightin Phils pitching coach Dave Lundquist had seen Friend last season when he was dominating Double-A hitters and immediately spotted what Friend was doing wrong and was able to come up with a plan to get him back on track.

"I was rushing to the plate and everything was flattening out; my slider was flat and my sinker wasn't sinking. Honestly, going back down to Double-A, to work with a pitching coach that is really familiar with me, he could see it right away in my first outing, what was going on," said Friend. "Working with Lundquist for those five or six days, we got the tempo back to where we need it. He also gave me some keys to keep working on when I came back up here. He and Ray have talked and we've kept working on tempo and keeping everything under control. Now, my sinker's down and the slider's sharper, so I guess it was a blessing in disguise."

Since returning to Lehigh Valley, Friend has gone 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA with the IronPigs. In fact, he pitched so well that he garnered the Phillies Minor League Pitcher of the Week honors for throwing 4 2/3 shutout innings over three relief appearances, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out eight. Friend obviously knew he was pitching well, but he has focused so much on getting his mechanics perfect that he hadn't given any thought to just how good his numbers had been recently.

"I made a joke that the rest of the affiliates must have been off or something. It's cool to get something organizational wide, that's sort of unique," laughed Friend.

You can say that all is well that ends well and that since Friend ultimately got himself straightened out by working with Lundquist when he was demoted to Reading, it's all a happy ending. Even had the trip to Reading not been what ultimately put Friend back on the right course, the fact that the Phillies did demote him, never caused Friend to become bitter. He's smart enough to know how baseball works and he's smart enough to know that he simply wasn't getting the job done at Lehigh Valley and the Phillies were almost forced to make a move.

"I hadn't pitched very well, so obviously, I didn't deserve to be here [at Lehigh Valley] at that point, but like I said, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise to work with somebody who has seen you a lot and can get you back to being you and being comfortable."


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